Write Prose Like the Pros: Point of View

The three basic approaches to point of view (POV) when writing novel length works are: first person, third person, and omniscient. Before getting into those, second person is another POV, using ‘you’ and ‘your,’ but this POV works best for shorter works and I recommend not using it for anything longer than a short story. First person POV follows the main character and the reader is inside their head. The reader feels close and intimate with the main character. First person POV uses ‘I’ and ‘me’ and it allows the readers to see the thoughts of the main character.

Omniscient POV is the opposite of first person. The reader views the story as an outsider looking in as the action takes place. No one’s thoughts are seen. There is only action and dialogue. The reader feels detached from all characters. There is no intimacy. Third person POV is a combination of omniscient and first person. Third person POV uses ‘they, them’ and ‘he, her’ while following one character’s perspective. The reader may not see the main character’s thoughts but will see they action as that character does. The reader may never move beyond that character’s perspective. 

One thing I want writers to consider when deciding on POV is the validity of the narrator. Can the readers trust what the narrator is saying? Does the narrator have biases? Was their perspective influenced to see something different from everyone else? Are they hallucinating? Deciding who the narrator is, why they’re telling the story, and to whom they are telling are as important to deciding in which POV the writer wants to tell the story. If the story is written in the omniscient POV, who is the narrator and how can they see what’s happening with all these characters? Even if the reader never learns these things, it’s important for the writer to develop those ideas.

The best place to learn how to improve one’s writing is with Renni Browne and Dave King’s “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print.” If I were teaching a class on fiction writing, this is the book I would use as the course textbook.

Write Prose Like the Pros: Characterization & Exposition

Most self-editing will fall under show versus tell principle. When introducing a new character, a quick narrative summary does more telling than showing. How does a writer show their character descriptions? Once again, I say to write more dialogue. A reader can learn a lot about a character from the way they speak and how they view themselves. You can also learn a lot about what a character doesn’t talk about. The way characters act or react to situations is another way to show someone’s character. Sometimes parts of a character’s personality are revealed over time.

Dialogue is also good for story exposition. If the writer has created an intricate fantasy world, how do they convey the normal rules and way of life in that fantasy world? There are many books and films where the main character is a newcomer to a new world. Or the main character has to help a newcomer to the new world. Through dialogue, the newcomer learns the important things about the new environment. The reader and the character learn about the world throughout the story. This is often used in video games where the player is the new arrival to an unknown world.

The best practices are to add more dialogue and only narrate action. Does the character walk a certain way? Do they look at things a certain way? Do they twirl a pencil when they’re nervous? When adding little details now and then, a reader can get a full grasp of who a character is during the entire story. If there’s an interesting back story, it can be told a little bit at a time in flashbacks or brief dialogue. This can help fill multiple pages instead of summarizing it in a couple of paragraphs. This will tell a reader more about a character than any amount of narrative summary. There is nothing wrong with starting out with a narrative summary. All that dialogue can be worked out during the editing process.

The best place to learn how to improve one’s writing is with Renni Browne and Dave King’s “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print.” If I were teaching a class on fiction writing, this is the book I would use as the course textbook.

Write Prose Like the Pros: Show and Tell

There are a few ways for a writer to show more in their prose. One option is to describe a character’s action versus telling the reader about their emotions. It’s easy to see that someone is angry based on their behavior. To say they’re angry and move on is a lack of creativity. Mentioning any emotions outside of dialogue is unnecessary. The easiest way I’ve been able to show more is by adding more dialogue to my narratives. I try to have my characters tell the story instead of the narrator.

I have an advantage over other writers when it comes to writing dialogue. I studied theatre for my undergraduate degree. I’ve read many plays and scripts. I am already comfortable with the idea of telling an entire story with only dialogue. This also gives me an advantage on how authentic the dialogue sounds. Whether for playscripts or novels, dialogue must be spoken aloud when revising. Sometimes a phrase doesn’t sound genuine once it’s said aloud. Also, if a character is said to be not well educated, using legal terms or other big words would be out of character. Writing great dialogue requires practice like everything else.

For my undergraduate minor, I studied creative writing. One exercise I did for a fiction writing class was to eve’s drop on a conversation and transcribe the dialogue. The instructor suggested recording the audio then writing it later. We were to study how people spoke in a normal, casual conversation. Then we were to compare that with dialogue we had written and look for differences. The goal was to write genuine, authentic dialogue. I encourage others to try this exercise. Then they should ask themselves, “Does this sound the way people actually talk?” Deciding how a character talks is another part of character development. 

People say things differently depending on where they grew up. In the Northern United States, when referring to soft drinks, people might call it ‘pop’ or ‘soda.’ Maybe even ‘soda pop.’ In the Southern United States, most soft drinks regardless of brand are called ‘coke.’ This is not true of everyone from these regions. So, does the character say ‘trashcan’ or ‘waste basket?’ Would that person say ‘dinner’ or would they say ‘supper?’ All this doesn’t have to be figured out when writing the first draft. Many of these little things are worked out and cleaned up in editing.

The best place to learn how to improve one’s writing is with Renni Browne and Dave King’s “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print.” If I were teaching a class on fiction writing, this is the book I would use as the course textbook.